After a fall
On average, every 22 seconds, a person over the age of 65 will fall.
Most people know that falls result in bruises and broken bones. It is less well known that being unable to get up after a fall can cause further, more serious injury. This is important because it is estimated that about half of the older adults who fall cannot get back up without help. Furthermore, the longer one is down, the greater the risk of medical problems that may have been prevented by getting help quickly.
What problems can result from being down too long after a fall?
A fall causes a person’s full weight to land on a few points of impact, causing immediate soft tissue damage. This injury gradually expands due to swelling which causes increasing pressure. If one gets back up, the pressure is relieved and there is perhaps only soreness and bruising. However, if the injury is such that the person cannot get up – or cannot even roll to take the weight of the body off the injury – the swelling and pressure extend. With the passage of time, the damage extends to any parts of the body that are lying still or are under pressure against hard surfaces.
What exactly happens?
Pressure Ulcers – Unrelieved pressure causes soft tissue to break down from lack of oxygen and essential nutrients, causing what is commonly referred to as “pressure” or “bed sores.” The position of the body after the fall, the struggle to get up and moisture from perspiration or urine can all complicate the situation. If unrelieved, the damage extends to deeper tissues.
Rhabdomyolysis – A medical condition that results when muscle tissue is damaged, releasing proteins into the bloodstream where they don’t belong. The proteins can clog the kidneys and, in severe cases, cause acute kidney failure and the need for dialysis. Dehydration – Dehydration can result if an individual can’t get up after a fall and get drinking water. This, in turn, can lead to many complications, including low blood pressure, confusion, shock, and damage to the brain, kidneys, and other internal organs that need water to function properly.
Aspiration Pneumonia – This serious lung infection results from inhaling fluids, food, or other foreign matter from the mouth or stomach after a fall. Those who are unconscious after a fall are especially susceptible. The presence of pneumonia is likely to complicate recovery from the fall.
Hypothermia – After a fall, lying in one position in a cold room or on a cold floor can reduce the body’s ability to regulate internal temperature. This becomes especially serious when the body’s temperature drops below 95°F (35°C) affecting the functioning of the heart.
Social and psychological consequences
In addition to the physical consequences, being unable to get up causes feelings of helplessness and can trigger a debilitating fear of falling. All of these possible consequences can limit a person’s ability to function and may be prevented by getting help quickly after a fall.